Things to do in Paris

Benedicte’s Paris Suggestions

 

Below are some suggestions I usually give to my friends when they’re planning to visit Paris: a list of restaurants, cafes, shops, galleries and other things I loved when I lived in Paris and have enjoyed on my many  trips there since. (Press Ctrl + click to access the websites via the coloured hyperlinks).

Preparing for your trip

Events and getting around

To know whether there will be anything spectacular happening during your visit, have a look at Paris Info before you leave. To plan gallery trips, cultural endeavors, meals and shopping adventures, Timeout Paris is a good resource.


To orient yourself, a Métro map is indispensable and if you want to familiarize yourself with it before you arrive in Paris, download a printable PDF from the RATP site.


If you’re planning a side trip to somewhere else in France, you can book train trips within France using the British version of the French national high-speed train service’s website. Book in advance for a cheap ticket.


Once you arrive in Paris (and if your French is OK) you can pick up a Pariscope from any newspaper stand for theatre performance, movies, restaurant info etc. It is organized by area, which is helpful if you’re looking for a cinema, theatre or restaurant close to your hotel. It is super cheap and comes out every Wednesday. 

Accommodation

If you haven’t already booked your accommodation, take a look at Airbnb (search Paris, France).

I’ve used this to book accommodation in NYC and it was a fabulous way to experience New York “like a local” at a very reasonable price. Another excellent site I’ve used for Paris is All Paris Apartments. Just type in the dates and you can read all about the cheap potential rentals and the ‘arrondissements’ that you select. I rented a studio on rue Mazarine in Saint Germain des Près through this site and was very impressed with how cheap and hassle free the whole process was (The apartment was lovely, and a thousand times more spacious than a hotel room for the same price). I think the 4th (Le Marais), the 6th (Saint Germain des Près), the 11th (Bastille), and the 5th “arrondissements” are probably the most exciting (and pleasant) places to stay. If you stay further out you’ll be fine too, just make sure you’re near a Métro stop. For “high end” apartment rental see Haven in Paris.


For hotels, these are a good starting place:

Séjour à Paris, also have some super well located places to fit different budgets, and this place looks amazing: http://apartment-living.com/en/rentals-by-district/6th-arrondissement/13-rue-des-quatre-vents.html

Transport

Paris is best seen by foot, but aside from walking, the Métro is the best means of getting around. Tickets are a couple of Euros, but can be bought in packets of 10 (un carnet) for a discounted price. (If you have a microchip in your credit card you can buy a pack from the machines in any Métro station, otherwise you’ll need cash). If you’re going to be in Paris from Monday through to Sunday, or plan to ride the Métro frequently, invest in a swipeable Navigo card. The card itself costs around 5 EUR, and unlimited travel for the week is less than 20 EUR. (Hold on to the card when the week is up — you can use it on your next visit).


However you choose to get around, I enthusiastically recommend buying a proper (street directory style) map of Paris by arrondissement. This is what I use, and year after year I am so grateful to have it with me on every trip. I would even go so far as suggesting you buy one online before you get to Paris so you can highlight the places you want to go before you get there (great time saver!). This will help you to really see one “quartier” at a time and help to avoid doubling-back for things you might have missed.


Buses are less reliable and subject to traffic jams, but if you’re staying near any of the sites listed below then the Bus 95 (in the direction of Porte de Vanves or Montmartre) is an excellent way to get around and see a bit of Paris en route. The important sites Bus 95 stops at (heading in the direction of “Montmartre”, starting at Porte de Vanves on the Left Bank outskirts) are:

  • Rue de Rennes (a great shopping street – much less touristy than the Champs Elysée)
  • Saint Germain des Près (which has excellent shops/boutiques, cafés and bars)
  • Louvre
  • Opéra (close to Galléries Lafayette, Printemps and Place Vendôme)
  • Montmartre

Places and attractions (in no particular order)

Right Bank


Louvre museum(Bus stop “Musée du Louvre” or Métro stop “Palais Royal Musée du Louvre”). See the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory and the Venus de Milo – they’re all clearly marked on the map you get at the info desk.  There are obviously so many things to see here… Spend a half or full day if you can spare the time. Café Marly next to the glass pyramids is lovely for a tea or coffee if you don’t have too great an aversion to pigeons. A coffee with milk (café crème) or a cup of tea will cost you about 5 Euros, but the ambience is lovely, a mix of old and new, and the outlook (including a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower) is very “Paris”.


Ile de la Cité and Ile Saint Louis – Notre Dame is exciting to visit if you can stand the crowds, but I always find Ile Saint Louis to be slightly more intimate with its cute shops and delicious Bertillon ice cream. (Side note: if you ever stumble across a Picard frozen foods store, you MUST buy a tub (or two small tubs) of the Francois Théron all natural salted butter caramel ice cream. It is “to die for”. Actually, all his ice creams are amazing.


Also nearby Notre Dame (and the Saint-Michel Métro stop) is Shakespeare and Co., an English bookstore, especially great for limited print and signed copies of hard-to-find books.


Centre Pompidou is the national museum of modern art with works by Matisse, Chagall etc. as well as contemporary installations (this is my favourite along with Quai de Branly). The view from the café on the top floor is fabulous. The Métro stop for Centre Pompidou is Hotel de Ville (line 1). While you’re in this area it’s worthwhile walking to Les Halles (see below).  


Les Halles Quarter is 200 m west of Pompidou. Apart from FNAC in the underground shopping mall (which has an overwhelmingly large collection of French music, books and DVDs; as well as your regular chain stores), there is a fantastic bakery on rue Saint Honoré just parallel to Rue Berger called JULIEN. (A great place to stop for lunch and very near to the Louvre)!  You could also walk through the park above the mall to rue Montmartre that is on your left just after the Saint Eustache church. Here you’ll find the quintessentially Parisian women’s clothing store Claudie Pierlot and Agnes B as well as Comptoir des Cotonniers around the corner in rue du Jour. 


From here walk to rue Montorgueil. This is a well-known walking street where locals (and foreigners) go for good food. Little Italy is a great, reasonably priced Italian restaurant (pasta and salads for about 10-15 EUR). Aux Tonneaux des Halles (28 rue Montorgueil) does a good steak frites and bistro style food, as does Au Rocher de Cancale. Rue Montorgueil is also a wonderful place to stock-up on picnic provisions. (There are some great bakeries – including Stohrer, Paris’s oldest bakery and the birthplace of the Baba au Rhum – as well as a fabulous fromagerie). I especially like this area because it isn’t overly touristy. Métro: Les Halles, Etienne Marcel, or Sentier.


Le Champs Elysée is nice to do after the Louvre because you can walk through the Jardins des Tuileries to the obelisk at Place de la Concorde. Then, if you can negotiate a complex intersection, you’ll hit the Champs Elysée. On the Champs Elysée you can buy all those typical French cosmetics and perfume at the largest SEPHORA (a very popular perfumery and the largest in size) in town; visit Petit Bateau for your basic t-shirts and a “onesie” which make great baby gifts (this is a French institution for basic tees/singlets/clothes); and pick up some macaroons from Ladurée. When you get to the end, climb the Arc de Triomphe – I think the view is much more inspiring and less clichéd than it is from the Eiffel Tower.


MontmartreClimb the stairs to Place du Tertre (the artists’ square) and visit the Sacré Coeur church. Most of the cute cafes/wine bars and shops are around Abbesses and not in Place du Tertre which instead boasts a lot of tacky and over-priced restaurants and souvenir stores. These are not great to eat at. While you’re in this area you could also walk through the red light district to the Moulin Rouge if you’re interested in experiencing some of Paris’s grit and grime. Métro: Abbesses on line 12. 


Les Marais The Marais is wonderful! Follow your map to Place des Vosges that has the most breathtakingly (and unquestionably chic) symmetrical square in Paris right next to which Victor Hugo lived at the time he wrote Les Misérables. In the summer, Place des Vosges is packed with people. Get here early if you plan to spend some time picnicking or relaxing. ( Métro: Saint Paul, also on line 1).


From the square, walk up rue des Francs-Bourgeois in the opposite direction to the traffic. There are great museums (the national Picasso gallery, the history of Paris museum) as well as great shops on, and in the side streets off, rue des Francs-Bourgeois including:


When you get to Zadig and Voltaire at the end of rue des Francs-Bourgeois, turn left and wander through the back streets to Mariage Frères teahouse (if you like tea) on the rue du Bourg–Tibourg. This is a great place to buy gifts and their Marco Polo tea is delicious! (If you’re hungry and can stand the queues, you can make a detour past l’As du Felafel). You should also stop by another Paris institution Repetto, famous for their gorgeous ballet flats: a new store recently opened on the corner of rue des Francs-Bourgeois and rue Vieille du Temple.


Not far from Mariage Frères, you’ll find wonderful Portuguese custard tarts at Comme à Lisbonne that give French pastries a serious run for their money. They’re served warm, with the right balance of eggy, creamy, crunchy deliciousness. The address is rue du Roi de Sicile 75004 and these tarts are the only thing the shop sells, aside from coffee to accompany them. (Tues- Sun 11am-7pm). (Not food related, but the quirky Tabio sock shop is diagonally opposite at 15, rue Vieille du Temple).


A few hundred metres from here, next to Hotel de Ville on rue de Rivoli, is BHV . It’s a decent and cheaper-than-Galleries-Lafayette department store. If you fancy a quintessentially Parisian “house number” to take home, or any other enamel plated steel plaque (for your toolkit, dog kennel etc. then head to the basement) – these, and other hardware goods can be found in the quincaillerie in the basement.


The Opera Quarter(Get off bus 95 at Opera or take Métro line 8 to Opéra). At Café de la Paix, ogle the frescos and trompe l’oeil and have an afternoon drink or a Mont Blanc (piped crème de marron with whipped cream: sweet and a little sickly but delicious and typically Parisian). Be sure to visit the Opera Garnier to see Chagall’s ceiling before 4pm if you can (entry to the opera hall itself closes at around 4). 


If you’ve got some time to spend in this area, visit Place Vendôme (the Ritz hotel) and work your way down to Rue Castiglione/Rue Saint Honoré in the 1st arrondissement. Here you’ll find super glam stores, like Cartier etc. and more interesting stores like the cult boutique Colette and the incredibly chic star-studded Hotel Costes (239 rue Saint Honoré in the 8th). The Hotel Costes bar (actually everything about Hotel Costes) is outrageously expensive (more than 20 EUR for a cocktail and 10 EUR for a Pastis) but it is a fabulous venue and an experience to remember! I spotted Gerard Depardieu here on one trip, but the staff will welcome you in a pair of jeans and walking shoes. Here is a review if you’re interested.


Food on the right bank

  • The wonderful “Chez Janou“, 2 rue Roger Velomme 75003 (Reviews here).
  • The much raved about “Le Felteu”, 15 rue Pecquay 75004 Tel: 01.42.72.14.51. Don’t think of going without reservations! Reviews here, here and here.
  • Ø  L’ami Louis another Parisian institution at 32, rue de Vertbois 75003 – Métro “Temple” (closed Monday and Tuesday). You definitely need to reserve, and the prices aren’t cheap, but the food and atmosphere are good. You may even spot a few French celebrities! 
  • In the 11th Arrondissement you’ll find a fabulous tapas bar Le Dauphin – 131, avenue Parmentier 75011 (tel: +33 1 55 28 78 88 and Métro: Goncourt). Le Dauphin is known for its small plate menu and natural wines. Nearby is the wine bar/restaurant Au Passage owned by the same people – 1 bis, passage Saint Sebastien, Paris 75011 (tel: +33 1 43 55 07 52 and Métro: Saint-Sébastien – Froissart).
  • Not far from here is the Creperie Bretonne which serves the best whole wheat crepes in Paris. Be sure to wash your crepes down with a “bolée de cidre”. The address is 67 Rue de Charonne 75011. (Métro: Ledru Rollin is probably your best bet).
  • If you’re keen for Asian food, or a cheap homemade North African couscous, head to Belleville. If you walk uphill you’ll find a Le Routard recommended Thai place and lots of delicious dumpling restaurants (specialties ä la vapeur). If the restaurant is busy the food is usually good. In this same area (one street parallel) is the Parc de Belleville. The view from the highest vantage point is wonderful, and a lot less clichéd than the others. Great for a picnic!
  • For something a bit different, there is a fun and crazy Brazilian restaurant called Favela chic which transforms into a (tame) latino nightclub after dinner has been served (18 rue du Faubourg du Temple 75011 – Métro: République). For reservations: +33(0)1 40 21 38 14 or resas@favelachic.com
  • For a New York style brunch – at one of the few places that serves decent Eggs Benedict – go to Scoop at 154, rue Saint Honoré 75001 (Métros: Louvre/Rivoli ou Palais Royal)
  • Or if you need to detox, try Sunday brunch at Supernature, 10 rue Trevise in the 10th arrondisement. I’d recommend booking, which you can do by emailing super_nature@yahoo.fr or calling +33.1.47.70.21.03.
    • For regular food markets, check out this website: http://www.parismarkets.net/. My recommendation is Marche d’Aligre, which is one of the most local (and cheapest) food markets and it’s open every morning (until 12ish). It’s in a relatively ‘hip’ quarter with a large North African immigrant population. (Great for mint tea and Moroccan pastries). The Métro stop is Ledru Rollin (line 8). Here is a blog post that talks more about the area.


Left Bank


Eiffel Tower and surrounds (Musée du Quai Branly) – If you like traditional art forms or are in anyway a cultural anthropology enthusiast like myself, the Musée du Quai Branly (Musée des Premiers Arts or “art of the first civilizations”) is definitely worth a trip, especially if you’re heading to the Eiffel Tower, which is very nearby. The restaurant at the museum is apparently quite spectacular.


Musée d’Orsay – The Musée d’Orsay is a must-visit. You need a good few hours to see the impressionist works of Monet, Manet, Van Gough, Renoir etc – and great sculptures like Rodin’s Gates of Hell. This is much more manageable than the Louvre and even on the first Sunday of every month, when entry is free, the queues move relatively quickly. The gardens at the Musée Rodin are worth a trip if you like sculpture. Actually, it’s worth it for the gardens alone! The Métro stop is Solferino (line 12).

 

Saint Germain des Près and the Latin Quarter – St. Germain is a great quarter for food, shopping and people watching. Check out rue du Four (where there is an excellent pharmacy – Pharmacy Fouhety – selling all the famous French cosmeceuticals at excellent prices) and rue des Canettes where you’ll find the most incredible Italian food. One of the best meals, definitely the best pizza, you’ll have in Paris is at Pizza Positano. Don’t be put off by the queue – the staff will always find you a table or at least tell you how long the wait will be (they don’t take bookings). Down rue Guisade is an excellent mix of Italian restaurants (and there is a microbrewery on rue Princesse if the restaurants really can’t squeeze you in). Don’t miss the lovely shops in rue Saint Sulpice while you’re in the area, or the Gerard Mulot bakery on rue des Quatre Vents. Their almond croissants, cherry macaroons, and green bean salad are (independently) delicious. You could always take some picnic fare up to the near-by Jardins de Luxembourg if the weather permits. (And if you do head to the Jardins de Luxembourg, make sure you stop by the fabulous clothing store “Abou Dhabi Bazar” – also on Rue Soufflot).


Walking a little further through these back streets to the ODEON intersection is also worthwhile, especially for a meal at Le Comptoir: the bistro opened by Yves Camdeborde at 9, carrefour de l’Odéon, 75006. Hearty brandade de morue, excellent cognac prunes, home-made cherry “eau de vie” and a traditional French menu. Absolutely delicious and 40-50 EUR a head (less than 200 EUR for four hungry, thirsty people). The service isn’t fantastic, but you’ll be grateful for a table (once you’re seated) – especially when you look back at the size of the queue. Over the summer months Le Comptoir doesn’t take bookings, so if you’re committed, it’s best to arrive around 7pm, otherwise you’ll likely queue. The staff will tell you “une petite heure”, but it will more likely be 30 minutes. (Unfortunately you can’t have a drink elsewhere and come back later). In winter book as far in advance as possible (i.e. well before you get to France). Follow this link to read a review.


Not far from Le Comptoir, the Saint Germain pub does good, cheap cocktails during happy hour. On the rue de Buci side, walk the back streets (e.g. Rue Mazzarine) to the river so you can sight-see from the PONT DES ARTS (the famous pedestrian bridge) where lovers picnic after work on Friday evenings. (You’ll also find the gorgeous “Epicerie de Rosa” for all your delicatessen needs. If you are purchasing picnic supplies, make sure you get some Bordier butter from Brittany). If you’re there during the day time, definitely cross the bridge and walk straight under the archway into the rear “square” courtyard at the Louvre: “La Cour Carrée”. It is absolutely magical especially if there is a flautist or cellist in the wings. In the evenings, not far from rue de Buci, on rue de Seine, you’ll find La Palette, and some other cute wine bars. (For gelato and picnic supplies in this area see Grom and Epicerie Da Rosa).


Rue de Rennes (which starts at the intersection by Les Deux Magots) is also fantastic for people watching, shopping, eating, and being Parisian. The back streets around here are well worth a stroll. Jonak is an excellent women’s “high street” shoe store and you’ll find ZARA, H & M, Gap etc. as well as some very cute cafés like Le Vieux Colombier and Cafe Cassette. From Rue de Rennes take a detour to La Grande Epicérie de Paris (next to the department store: Le Bon Marché) for the most gourmet food court in Paris (or if you’ve run our of Vegemite) and la rue du Cherche Midi (in the 7th arrondissement), which has great shops (including the cult ERES swimwear) and a sour dough bakery called Poilâne – a true Parisian institution that makes an excellent apple tart (The bread is best toasted). For excellent French food, try “Josephine” Chez Dumonet at 117 rue du Cherche-Midi 75006 (Duck confit and dessert soufflés highly recommended!).


More food and restaurants on the Left Bank:

  • For fresh, creative and mostly organic food (a fabulous break from your usual French fare), try Restaurant Itinéraires in the Latin Quarter: 5 rue de Pontoise, 75005. Closed weekends and booking recommended via their online form, or by calling: 01 46 33 60 11.
  • For a chic “New England” experience in Paris go to Ralph’s: 173 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006
  • For gelato, Grom – just near Epicerie De Rosa – is a must. All natural and adventurous flavours, straight out of Turin. The address is 81 rue de Seine 75006.
  • On Boulevard de Montparnasse is La coupole – a very well-known and traditional Parisian brasserie. The food is good and reasonably priced, but the decor is better – go there for the lovely ambiance and the degustation menu. The closest Métro stop is Vavin on line 4. If you’re in the area, but not keen on a big meal, you could grab a traditional Breton crepe from Josselin’s creperie (67 rue du Montparnasse 75014).
  • On Boulevard Saint Germain (no. 47 near Métro: Maubert Mutualité) you’ll find good picnic supplies: Pain Moisan (on Boulevard Saint Germain) is great for organic sourdough, and right beside a good fromagerie and charcutière.
  • If you’re game to check out the real and slightly less glamorous Paris, head to L’ami Marcel (33 rue Georges-Piatard 75015), for a wonderful meal. Take Métro line 13 to ‘Plaisance’ look for the overhead rail bridge when you exit the Métro onto the street, walk under it and turn right into rue George Pitard/rue de Castagnary). Otherwise you can take line 6 or 12 to ‘Pasteur’ on Blvd Pasteur then walk down Rue Falguière for 1km and at the ‘6 ways’ intersection take rue Georges Pitard (between the pharmacy and “tabac”).  The food here is a mélange of traditional and modern French. It is always fantastic and you’ll encounter very few tourists. A three-course meal for two with a bottle of wine and coffee will cost you about 100 EUR.
  • If it’s steak frites that you’re after, you shouldn’t miss ‘Le Severo’ in Paris (8, Rue des Plantes 75014). This is also a little further afield (not too far from L’ami Marcel actually) but in a great, less-frequented-by-tourists part of Paris.

Food, generally…


  • Try and avoid restaurants with English menus – usually inferior food at superior prices. Most waiters speak a little English anyway and you can always order the Plat du Jour.
  • There is a conspicuous trend towards American/fusion food in Paris. I do not find this overly appealing and most restaurants (unless they are overtly American, like Scoop) are doing it all wrong. Avoid restaurants with burgers on the menu (unless it’s their specialty) at ALL costs.
  • If you’re hankering for something different, there are also some good Mexican restaurants in Paris. Check out Anahuacalli that has three different restaurants in various locations.  

Resources

Three excellent articles on Paris, from the New York Times: Frugal Paris; Save or Splurge: Paris; and Liberty, Equality, Gastronomy


Food: helpful links

 David Lebovitz’s blog - Lebovitz is an American food writer who lives in Paris and shares his musing about food on his blog (an excellent resource!) David has written an excellent post on his restaurant recommendations, and a fun list of 10 things go do when stranded in Paris. A guest post on his blog will also help point you towards vegetarian restaurants, as will this post on the Hip Paris blog.


The fabulous blog Chocolate and Zucchini also has so fun suggestions if you have 12 hours in Paris.

 

I’ve never done a cooking class in Paris, but if you’re keen, here is a list of options , including a food tour.


If you are a cocktail fiend, then the 52martinis website is helpful.


For more restaurant insights, scroll through writer Amy Thomas’s blog posts on restaurants.

 

Paris with young children 


Check out the fabulous babyccino blog: http://babyccinokids.com/paris/


And the Paris Cheat Sheet on Travels with Clara:

http://www.travelswithclara.com/2011/11/paris-cheat-sheet.html



And a collection of miscellaneous links/blogs


If you're a jogger or a walker (and feel like you need more exercise than the walk around the city is providing, see: http://intransit.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/05/jogging-in-paris-when-spring-hs-sprung/
If you're on the quest for the best baguette in Paris:
http://intransit.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/15/best-baguette-prize-awarded-in-paris/
If you're less keen on the beaten track: a list of "secret places" http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/28/fashion/28hiddenparis.html?pagewanted=2&partner=rss&emc=rss

If you trust The Australian:
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/travel/plates-of-the-day/story-fn44w9hc-1225853954253?from=public_rss
The Design Sponge Paris Guide, which is right on point: http://www.designsponge.com/2012/01/paris-design-guide.html 
 
Helpful info on Paris Flea Markets. 
 
"Paris Perfect" blog and website
 

More info on Saint Germain


A great place to find tips on food, shopping, events etc. in Paris: HiP Paris Blog


Wishing you safe and happy travels,

Benedicte